Western Horseman Magazine- November 2001
Article by Shelly Kurz
I came away from my stay at the Gustafson’s Cross Three Ranch in Dusty, Washington with the most promising get-rich-quick scheme I have ever heard. Wylie Gustafson of the western music group, Wylie and the Wild West, and his wife Kimberley have practiced the theory for years and although you probably won’t ever hear them hyping it up on the national seminar circuit, sit with them over a cup of coffee at the Dusty Café and they’ll be more than happy to share their secret of success with you. “Follow your heart and count your blessings,” says Wylie. It’s as simple as that… and Wylie and Kim are living proof that it really does work.
“I think how to be happy is to follow your heart… it has nothing to do with how to make money,” explains Wylie. “I see a lot of books on how to make money-they may tell you how to make money but they sure don’t tell you how to be happy.” Following his heart has lead Wylie down many roads over the past decade as he and his Wild West band have worked hard to breathe new life into an almost forgotten genre of music. Cutting a trail to audiences of all ages and backgrounds to bring them a new interpretation of western music is Wylie’s ultimate goal. “We are not a band that survives on playing traditional western music,” says Wylie. “I have a huge respect for performers like Sons of the Pioneers, Marty Robbins, and Gene Autry. We do a lot of those songs in our show but I wanted to take western music into a new direction and create something interesting—something that today’s generation can relate to somehow, whether it be my working cowboy friends in Montana or the kids in Seattle.” Whatever Wylie is doing, it appears to be working. Wylie and the Wild West tour throughout the United States and abroad, playing more than 150 dates a year, from state fairs and festivals to the Grand Ole Opry. Their audiences, as well as their fan base, consist of people of all ages. “Magically, we appeal to all kinds of crowds and I don’t know exactly why or how that happened but it’s really a lot of fun to be able to cross social boundaries and generations with our music,” claims Wylie.
Wylie’s passion for music began when he was just a child. He grew up in a musical family on a working ranch in northwestern Montana. “My dad played the guitar and sang cowboy songs to us kids…that was my first memory of listening to music that made me happy and inspired me.” In addition to singing as a child, Wylie also began yodeling at a young age. Although he didn’t take it as seriously then as he does now, he, like his father, had a gift for it and soon discovered what a powerful impact it had on audiences everywhere. In 1998, Wylie released his second album with Rounder Records entitled Total Yodel. It’s an unforgettable musical celebration that honors the deep roots that yodeling has to traditional country music. Wylie’s famous yodeling can also be heard on commercials promoting the Montana State Tourism Commission as well as Yahoo.com.
Wylie and the Wild West have just released their 7th album, Paradise. Once again, the integrity of the western lifestyle remains intact since most of the songs were either written or co-written by Wylie. “When I get to write the songs, I really get to impart our style. I feel that to be a great songwriter, you have to write what you know about first and foremost,” says Wylie. “This new album reflects my life right now—everyone has a different version of paradise. Mine lies just beyond my front porch where the Snake River rolls beneath the Blue Mountains in eastern Washington.”
Wylie’s off-the-road lifestyle truly does mirror his music, and it is his life at home that provides the abundant blessings that he counts every day. He and Kimberley thrive on their 120-acre horse and cattle ranch nestled among the rolling wheat and alfalfa fields that are indigenous to the Palouse region of eastern Washington. It’s the land that Kim’s great-grandfather homesteaded back in 1905, it’s also the land where her parents, Dale and Vicki Broeckel still live today. Together, Wylie and Kim are building a strong foundation and a solid reputation for breeding, training and selling good quarter horses. Both were fortunate enough to be raised around people who had excellent horse breeding programs so naturally, they know what to look for in a horse. “What we’re looking for is a balance between a good mind and strong athleticism,” Wylie explains. “Color is the least important thing we look for. We do like to have pretty, colorful horses but it just doesn’t work in our program because we need to count on these horses whether we’re team roping, cutting, or out rounding cattle along the steep, rocky terrain of the Snake River breaks.”
Even though Kim likes a good cutting horse while Wylie wants a good roping horse, they both come together in agreement on which bloodlines they prefer. The Doc Bar and King lines are their top choices for good cow horses. “Doc Bar changed the cutting industry and the performance horse industry,” says Wylie. “He had the magic, he was a horse that could do a lot of things and do them well.” The King lines breed many of the same characteristics as the Doc Bar lines without being as hot-blooded. “The King horses are more easygoing so it’s really a nice cross,” adds Kim.
Training is another area where Wylie and Kim are in complete agreement. And listening to them talk about their program, I cannot help but think what wonderful parents they will make someday should they carry over some of their ideas into child raising! Confidence is instilled in their horses very early on. Young horses are allowed and encouraged to be a horse instead of constantly being picked at with expectations of perfection. “We like control of the horses but we don’t try to control every movement they make,” says Kim. “As long as our horses do what we want them to do and get the job done, we let them be themselves. We don’t want to give them too big of a job and blow their mind. Our 2-year-olds all work but they don’t work too hard. We want to give them a job that they can accomplish and know they did it well and will do it again the next time we ask.” Wylie is a little more strict with his rope horse, Pokey. “When he’s roping, that’s his job and he has to do everything well. At 6 or 7 years old, he’s old enough to be seeking perfection and he does do an excellent job roping. When I’m out rounding up cattle with him, those are his days off so he doesn’t have to be as concerned with doing a perfect job.” Although Wylie and Kim have attended numerous clinics and seminars featuring a variety of trainers, they have built their program primarily around the principles of Patrick Wyse’s techniques. Patrick has been a professional instructor for more than 30 years. His skills and principles are based on those of his early mentor, Monte Foreman. Without all the mystic and magic that some of today’s trainers use in their programs, Patrick teaches practical horsemanship so that students can easily understand and implement his methods. Like Patrick Wyse, Wylie and Kim have developed a program based on simplicity and efficiency. “Ours is a very simple program with terms that people can easily understand,” explains Wylie. “It’s a very efficient system for getting a handle on a horse in a short time without taking shortcuts. The end product that we’re shooting for is a safe horse that can do a lot.” “Horse training is not rocket science,” Kim adds. “It’s thinking smart and making it simple so the horse understands and the rider understands.” Through this commitment to their training program, the Gustafson’s are gaining a reputation for turning out safe horses with a nice handle regardless if they are in the performance ring or out on the trail.
In addition to a growing drove of horses, the Cross Three Ranch is also home to a small commercial beef herd as well as a few young buffaloes. “The reason I have the herd is just because I grew up in the cattle industry and I love cattle and roping. They also work so well into our horse program for training purposes,” explains Wylie. “We’re constantly using the cattle to get the horses accustomed to being around them. We’ll follow a cow, get the colt to be a little bit cowy by putting him on that cow at a young age and letting him figure things out.” As for the buffalo, Kim finds them to be very effective for training cutting horses. “Eventually the cows just stand there-they either won’t move until you’re right up on top of them or they’ll disrespect your horse so much that they’ll run up under the neck,” she says. “Buffalo are wild enough that they keep moving so they are better to practice with.”
When he isn’t out on the road performing and they aren’t working on an intense training program, Wylie and Kim do take time for some good old country fun! Even though neighbors can sometimes be miles apart, they still get together for a friendly roping competition, a branding party or simply to help move each other’s cattle to different pastures. This is how it is in rural America. Neighbors are there to help each other out. Clouds of selfishness seem to dissipate as everyone considers the needs of those around them. “It’s a unique lifestyle that many city people just don’t understand,” says Wylie. “We are so thankful for having been raised in it and it’s a lifestyle that we both cherish. The happiness in my life and in our life comes from the fact that we’re doing what we love to do and we are doing it together. Having someone to share it with makes everything so much more worthwhile and valuable,” he concludes.
So there you have it—just one more blessing that Wylie counts as he does a mental audit of all the riches in his life.